Black Dice’s visual and sonic output is often described in terms that make it seem as much a test of nerves or a cerebral exercise as a visceral pleasure: ‘jarring’, ‘brutal’, ‘chaotic’, or even that 2020s staple of art-prose, a ‘liminal space’. The band/art project’s output may well be all these things, but for many people, it just makes sense: it wrings out serotonin from otherwise-calcifying crevices, lighting you up like one of those brains from a pop-science TV show that demonstrate how people synaptically react to stuff like porn, cocaine, Reese’s cups or Hello Kitty’s face.
Now based between New York and LA, Black Dice formed in the late 90s around RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), where Bjorn Copeland was studying sculpture. The only non-RISD member in the early days was Bjorn’s brother Eric Copeland, who was still in high school but would travel down from Maine to perform vocals.
“RISD was hugely influential,” says Copeland. “All the bands that were a little bit older than us [like Lightning Bolt] were very inventive. There was always a heavy performance component to a lot of the bands that were coming out of Providence at the time; everybody did their own artwork. It set a high bar. The state the city was in at that time made it feel a little bit lawless, like you could get away with stuff. And everyone was young enough that nobody thought about things like a fire breaking out at a sketchy-ass warehouse, people getting hurt at shows and that kind of thing.”
Given Black Dice’s early reputation for a fair few people actually getting hurt at shows — not least the band themselves, careering into the crowd like a noise-based Mr Blobby — this all sounds like a very Providence-specific sort of art school utopia.